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Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.

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Submitted by Matthew Barker

Kathleen Ferrier as Nicklaus?

Matthew writes :-

As a follow up to my email which mentioned Kathleen Ferrier's recording of "I know where I'm going", I remembered she had a more concrete connection with PnP when she was offered a part in "The Tales of Hoffmann". I assume she was going to act and sing the part of Nicklaus which eventually went to Pamela Brown. The following is an extract from Maurice Leonard's biography of Kathleen:

"A stack of letters awaited her in Montreal [she was on tour in Canada - MB], among which was an offer to appear in a feature film. Producers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger were making, in England, a screen version of Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann. This would be in colour and Becham had agreed to conduct.

'Me in a film? Pon me soul' she wrote to Emmie. 'I don't know the part or if it's suitable, and could the cameraman remove remove my curves? [Kathleen was actually very beautiful! - MB] But I couldn't give a definite answer just now till I know more about it. It would be interesting if it were rewarding - musically and financially.'

In the end commitments would not permit her to accept the offer, but it is unlikely she was too disappointed, as the idea of acting in front of a camera filled her with terror. Also ahe did not relish the idea of working with Beecham who could be, to say the least, impolite to singers on occasion. Although she recognized the kudos of working with him, she had no desire to become a target for any possible abuse. When she had auditioned for him at Glyndebourne her circumstances had been different. At this stage in her career she could afford to be choosy.

Anyway it was probably just as well Kathleen had not taken the role, as when Tales of Hoffmann was released critic Gavin Lambert dismissed it as 'the most spectacular failure yet achieved by Powell and Pressburger'. Nowadays, it is a curiosity which, from time to time, pops up on television."

I wasn't sure whether to include the last bit or not, but decided the whole extract was more interesting with it. Anyway, we nearly got Kathleen on film, but unfortunately she did not take the offer. She still had a tenuous link with the finished film in that she worked with and was friends with Ann Ayars who was Antonia. They both did Gluck's "Orfeo" at Glyndebourne. I always think that "Orfeo" with Kathleen Ferrier would have made a great PnP film with the opportunity for opera and dance, and the prospect of Hein Heckroth designing hell. One of my wish projects.

Update by Matthew on 24th November 2003...

Reading the new edition of Kathleen Ferrier's letters and diaries - a good laugh if you get the chance to read them!

In a letter to her American accompanist on 1st May 1950 she mentions:

"Sir Thomas Beecham's secretary has just left me - he was wanting to know if I would record some Delius songs mit him on Columbia, but I don't think Decca will keep on lending me - but it's nice to be asked. He has told me that Ann Ayars is doing Antonia in the film of Hoffman! - it would have been fun to be there with her - but I couldn't do it anyway 'cos I'm in Wien."

So Sir Thomas may not have been the ogre Maurice Leonard made him out to be in his biography of Kathleen,


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